Monday, July 30, 2012

Vapor Trail 125 on my own terms, Part II

Read Part I of this story if you haven't already...

The descent from the high point of Canyon Creek went well. Beautiful. Challenging. I was succeeding. The ride through the night went as well as it ever has for me, and it felt as though I was past the crux.

After I finished up the really steep upper part of the Trail, just before I got to the horse camp, I noticed that my front tire had gotten a little soft. It was a new tire, I'd chosen it specifically because it was light with a fast-rolling tread. I'd mounted it tubeless Sunday, and had not had good luck with it holding air. On Tuesday I took it down to Absolute Bikes and had Scot help me mount it properly. It had survived a test ride, and seemed to be good to go. It had held air the rest of the week, and it had been fine on the Colorado Trail and through the night, but throwing it around and cornering down Canyon Creek had apparently made it leak a little.

I was going to ignore it for the time being and go on, but thought better of it. I stopped just after crossing the creek at the horse camp and put my pump on it. As I tried to get some pressure into it, my pumping motion made air leak around the stem. I grumbled and pulled the pump off. I tightened up the stem nut as hard as I could with my fingers. Then I pulled out my CO2 and filled it up hard. I lifted the front of the bike and spun the wheel and held it horizontal so that the stan's would fill into whatever gaps were in the bead. Maybe it had been leaking around the stem the whole time?

Ah, the dilemma of the tubeless mountain bike tire addict. In retrospect, I should have just yanked the thing off, dumped the liquid latex out onto the ground and put in a tube. But we addicts will go to some pretty lengthy effort to make tubeless work.

I decided to leave some pretty high pressure in it for a while--leave it hard so that maybe it would seal up once and for all. I told myself that I needed to be a little careful and wary of my speed because the traction would be bad. Got back on and back under way.

The section of the trail after the horse camp had been seeing lots of horse traffic. The hay-burners had it nicely roto-tilled and fertilized. I really hate getting shit sprayed up all over my bike, my water bottle, my face--so I was watching for the piles and avoiding them.

I suddenly remembered that my last attempt at the Vapor Trail 125, during the 2010 event, had ended right on this section of trail with a stupid crash, the result of atrocious reaction time. Not this time! I may have even said to myself out loud, I need to be careful here...

I don't think 15 whole seconds went by after my self-warning before I saw another generous pile of shining wet fresh horseshit in the middle of the trail. I chose to take a line along the right side of it. My front tire, pumped up hard as a BB, dug into the steep slant of the trailbed and started to wash. I was going down! A log was sticking out right next to the trail! Wham. My chest and right arm slammed into the log. Damn! How could I do that?! What have I done?!

I picked myself up off the shitty sand and assessed the damage. Breathing hurt. It was my sternum. And elbow. Right arm. Knee.

Crap, Crap, Crap! How bad is it? Do I need help?!?

I spent a few minutes breathing, checking myself out. No, I can go. It hurts, but nothing life-threatening. As soon as I started riding I saw that my right hand brake lever and shifter had been twisted down to face the ground. Stop again, get out the mini tool, loosen up the clamps and put them back where they belong...

The whole thing turned on a dime for me. I had been living the dream, now I was annoyed, disgusted with my poor judgement. Hurting. All the energy drained from my legs. All of the confidence drained from my mind.

Am I not capable of riding from town over Granite Mountain and coming out of it with enough clarity to actually ride Canyon Creek to the campground without crashing? God this trail is trashed. Damn horses! Damn wet sandy crappy trail! Damn motos, look how they've torn this up! Jeez, just try to ride for 20 more minutes without crashing, OK dumbass?

I got to the end of the trail and rode into Snowblind Campground, looking for their water. The sound of generators was everywhere, as the fifth-wheel camper inhabitants sat inside having their morning coffee and breakfast. Would have been nice if the camp host had popped his head out so I could have asked where the water is. I wasn't inclined to knock on his door. I rode a couple of the circles through the campground and eventually gave up. I figured I had enough water to get up Old Monarch, then I could fill up at the Monarch Pass store. No need to load up with a bunch of weight that I have to haul up there anyway unless I really needed it.

I stopped and pulled off the pack. Ow. I got out food, I put my short-sleeves back on and put the long sleeve away. Leg warmers off. Clear lenses off, tinted lenses on. Eat.

I could still finish this thing. Time for my inner coach to get me over this moment. Just shake it off. Stop grumping and feeling sorry for yourself. You're still in it. You can still do this. Or you can give up. But either way, you need to climb out of this canyon and back up to the divide. May as well cheer up and face that with a smile; as much smile you can come up with anyway.

So I got some convenience food ready in the pockets on my hip belt. I pulled the pack back on, I took a long pull of water. And I got back on the bike and made my way down the Whitepine Road to the bottom of Old Monarch.

Settle in to the climb. My chain was a mess. Creek crossings, splattered with wet sand and horseshit, it was a black crunchy mess. I longed for a rag to dry it off with. Of course I had my little bottle of lube, but putting lube on a wet, muddy chain is not ideal. Wouldn't this be a good place for somebody to cast off an old sock?

I tried to find and establish a pace. I'd lost a good chunk of time, and of course my speed was greatly reduced. The last part of the trail had taken much longer than it should have thanks to my broken body and strong sense of goddammitbecareful. And I'd lingered at Snowblind for quite a while. It was about 8:30. I guessed that in my state the climb was going to take around 2 hours. Longer if I wallowed in despair. I tried to keep my cadence up and ignore the significant pain in my chest. Good posture hurt. Breathing hurt. My ass was getting that 12 hours of punishment sting.

The inner coach was working hard. You can still finish this thing. Of course it's going to hurt. Yes, the chest injury makes it worse. But you can get past that.

But the doubts came on strong. And the rationalizations. And the visions of food at home, and my couch.

And then the pain got much more acute. I've suffered on this road many times. It's always a bitter pill. It's not a nice steady grade like the climb to Alpine Tunnel or to Marshall Pass. This isn't a railroad grade, it's an old highway.

My ass started to be a real distraction. The pain from there rivaled the pain from my chest. I had forgotten to bring that little bit of Chamois Butt'r that I had set aside. It would have been nice. Standing to relieve it revealed a bruise I'd taken on the knee when I crashed. Standing hurt. I couldn't really handle more than 15 or 20 seconds of standing pedaling, then it was back to punishing my ass.

After a while I saw that the chain had dried somewhat. Still filthy, but it would take lube. I stopped and lubed it and continued on.

I started playing a game with my GPS where I'd watch how many minutes to see 100 feet of elevation gain, then extrapolate that across the remaining feet I needed to get to the 11,400 foot Old Monarch. But that's a brutal game. GPS units don't always accurately show elevation. Sometimes I'd watch it click steadily up, a couple times I saw 100 feet advance in 4-7 minutes. Then a minute would go by where it didn't advance at all, sometimes it would go backwards. There I was putting my heart and soul into pedaling in granny gear. Oh yes, I was climbing. But the %#*!@# GPS said I was on flat ground!

Basically, it was grueling. My spirit was being broken. I had so many variations of pain. I stopped and ate. I kept drinking. I stopped to give my ass a rest. I tried to focus on good posture and cadence when I was pedaling. I stopped looking at the %#*!@# GPS. And eventually I came around a bend in the road and saw the summit. It should have felt like victory, but defeat was everywhere around me. I was a whipped dog.

Continental Divide Trail south from Old Monarch. An old picture (that Voodoo is two bikes ago).

I turned right onto the Continental Divide Trail to bridge over to Monarch Pass from Old Monarch. I was shelled. Utterly demoralized. Sore ass afire. The slightest uphill on the trail killed my forward momentum, off and walking. The downhills hurt my chest and the jarring made me aware of a bruise on my right tricep.

I would get to the pass. I would sit. And eat. This is predictable--Old Monarch Pass climb is always a low point of this course. I've gotten through the course to this point intent on quitting before, and I have gone on. I can go on. Don't give up. Don't give up. I set out to do this and knew it was going to be hard. Something always goes wrong, but lots has gone right. Must get to the pass, then rest. Let my body and mind have some time to recover. I am still in it.

I came down the last bit of CDT onto highway 50 and nearly crashed in the deep ruts and drop-offs. I was so tired. I was riding badly. I hurt everywhere. Climbing the couple hundred yards up to the pass on the roadbed was excruciating. I rolled across the wide lot past the sign that says Monarch Pass, 11,313 feet elevation. Joyless. Broken. I leaned my bike against the store. I checked for cell service so that I could let Kathy know I was OK. Nope.

It hurt just to stand there. My brain would hardly function.

I knew I had forgotten to bring my wallet. Was the $5 I leave in my seat bag in there? It took me a very long time to pull everything out and grope around looking for it. Maybe I could buy a cold can of coke and be transformed if it was in there. Nope.

Eat something, maybe that will turn me around.

Do I have any realistic hope of riding another 50 miles? Could I conceivably ride down Starvation and climb back up the road to Marshall again? Just thinking of the short steeps that are encountered on the jeep road over to the top of Starvation nauseated me. The idea of doing the whole Starvation down and back up loop seemed like a pipe dream. I could not imagine actually being able to complete the whole course. Not in my wildest dreams.

Assuming I'm going to bail, could I at least make it across the Crest so I can descend on something that isn't paved highway 50? Give up all that hard won elevation to a road descent, in the company of semis and RVs? The Crest is a treat. I am right here. Can't I at least ride the Crest?

Why? For fun? Because it would be a more fun way to end this adventure? Will it be fun? That was an easy question to answer. Hell no. It would be far more torture than fun. Just standing there breathing I was feeling the sharp pain in my chest. My ass, it was going to be very uncomfortable.

I gave up.

Going home was the only rational choice. Continuing to torture myself in the name of finishing at all costs just seemed insane. I really want to do this. I really want to finish. But at that point, on a scale of 1 to 10, I'd say my pain was a 7. Somehow in the next 50 miles of grinding climbs and rough rocky descents it would get better? Crazy. Crazy.

I'm stubborn and willful, but I'm not that stubborn. And I was not riding well. I'm hurting, I'm exhausted. What if I screw up and crash again? If I continue, there's a very real chance that I'll get jacked up worse and somebody is going to have to come rescue my broken ass. I can't do that. I should celebrate what I've done by going home and starting to mend my wasted body.

So I put my jacket on, and I rolled east and let gravity bring me up to speed. It was a little after 11 AM when I left Monarch. I was able to get almost all the way to Maysville before I had to pedal. At Maysville I took CR220, since it parallels the highway but provides relief from the pavement and passing vehicles.

I came into the heat of mid-day once I was back down below 8,000 feet, and the closer I got to Salida the more uncomfortable it was. Hot sticky pain. I pedaled as long as I could stand it, then stood with my knees locked facing down. Looking up hurt my chest, sitting down hurt my ass. I must have looked like a mental patient, coasting in a downward-facing-dog pose for as long as my momentum would carry me. Then sitting back down to pedal with an audible groan.

So the story ends with a whimper. I got home. Called Kathy and told her the story. Shower. Food. Couch. The company of a small funny-looking cat.

So another story of not quite making it. Trying. Throwing my effort and energy at a goal; but not being able to conquer it. Will I ever finish that damned thing? Maybe, maybe not. I learn more with every attempt. I am in awe of it every time I encounter it. I love it and I hate it, that damned circle in the mountains.

As I write this, I feel strongly that it was not a defeat. Not for me. I had another rich experience. I took care of myself. I made some stupid mistakes, but I did all the paying and I bailed myself out.

And I lived to fight another day.


Unknown said...

Holy smokes that's a big ride dude. Thinking myself I would prefer to ride again than risk absolutely everything to complete that one Epic. Rest up and get back out there! Mike

Anonymous said...

Great write up Tom. I really enjoyed that one, thanks for posting

Ed said...

I'm speechless!

Way to get out there Tom.


Shane said...

Excellent write up Tom and a fine effort. It's damn hard making that call of when to push on and when to head home. Under other circumstances I know the exact feeling of knowing it's the smart thing to bail but still struggling to let go of the prize and make that smart decision. Better to live and quaff another pint over tales of wonder and mischief.

LosingGround said...

I like your kitty.

ScottM said...

Loved the story and all the internal debate / self-defeat dialogue. You fought through a lot, but made a good call in the end. I likely should have bailed on my ITT last summer, had I known the back and other issues that were to arise.

Glad to see you went for the ITT route -- it's a great course on your own terms.

Sorry about the injuries. I checked in to see if you were maybe riding the event this year. Get well!